My mother died last Tuesday night at home. It is the end of her life on earth and certainly the end of the most important relationship in my life. But it’s also a new beginning for me. Bear with me while I unburden myself.
Last September, I largely dropped off the Spark planet when my mother was diagnosed with extensive stage small cell lung cancer. This is one nasty cancer. It’s not curable and the average person diagnosed with this cancer lives 10 months from diagnosis. My brothers and I knew this, but my mom chose not to. She was also a very private person. As a result, I felt I needed to keep her “secret” to myself. I’m a person who tends to tell it like it is, so I tried to avoid talking about it rather than telling people things that were less than completely true. And I grieved. I knew that focusing on an uncertain future wasn’t productive, but it was impossible not to focus on what was almost certainly going to happen. My mom was going to die and she was going to die fairly soon. I feared for her, and I feared for me.
My mom has always been a huge presence in my life. She and my dad ran a farm and were always home when we were growing up. We worked together at the family business, they came to our sporting events, visited me at college and in the various places I lived after school. We traveled together, went to shows, museums, etc. My dad died in 1994, and six years ago I moved back to my hometown. I lived with my mom for two years while I built a house next to my mom’s on land she gave me. During those six years, my mom drove me to the train every day, cooked me meals each night, helped out with errands and chores, lent me things, attended events with me. In many ways, my mom was like a spouse to me. She was SO generous. With my mom at my side, I was never lonely.
Things weren’t always perfect, of course. There were times (many times, in fact) that my mom would drive me crazy. She could nag and criticize with the best of them. I often found her to be one-dimensional.
When my mom was diagnosed, what I felt more than anything was that I didn’t want her to feel alone or afraid. I attended as many of her medical appointments as possible. She didn’t have much interest in learning about her cancer or treatments, so that role fell to me. I researched the treatments and asked the questions of the doctors. I questioned whether we were pursuing treatments aggressively enough. I agonized over whether she should undergo preventative brain radiation (involving irradiating a healthy brain to prevent the spread of cancer to it). This allowed me to give back to my mom some small measure of what she gave me over the years. This process brought out the best in me, especially with regard to patience and compassion.
I also felt so privileged that my mom’s treatments went so well. She only felt nauseous one day in six months. We had an amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas. We went to Vegas together with a college friend of mine in January. I was hoping for a last vacation this spring—to the beach, where we all have such a great time with my brothers and their kids.
My mom turned 70 in March. I decided we should throw her a big birthday party. I knew it would likely be her last, and I wanted her to have the chance to see her closest friends before she died. We had it at her house on April 9, and it was spectacular. She was tired, but did great. It was especially poignant for my brothers and me because we learned on April 8 that the cancer in my mom’s liver was causing it to fail. For the past three weeks, she was totally exhausted. The doctor told us to expect worse and expect it quickly. We feared the end would come within the next couple of months and that it would be very tough.
The Monday after my mom’s party, she called me at 6 am saying she needed to go to the hospital. She was clearly in very bad shape. It was pneumonia, and it was quite bad. The doctors ultimately told us they couldn’t really do anything for her. We brought her home on the 15th and set her up in the living room where she could be in the center of things and have a view of the farm she worked so hard to make thrive. During this time, we were able to tell her how much she meant to us and how much we would miss her. As she slipped away over the next four days, I grieved more. IT WAS SO HARD. I was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor next to her bed when she died the night of April 19. I think she wanted to die when we weren’t hovering over her like we had been at other times near the end.
Over the last week, it has been SO amazing to hear what people felt about her. She was larger than life to so many. She was active in our community and passionate on so many matters, like art, knitting and supporting local agriculture. I think we understood that on some level, but not to the extent we’ve been hearing. It’s like looking at my mom from a totally different perspective.
It still doesn’t feel to me like she’s gone. I go to her house and it’s like she’s away for the weekend. I don’t know when it will truly hit or what it will feel like.
I’m going back to work on Monday. I’m going to reduce my schedule to three days per week so I can tend to myself and to the business of her estate. And my future will likely include some big changes. I will have the means to be less dependent on a “real job.” And my mom is the main reason I live where I do, so I may move on. I have a super tough time imaging living here without her. Moving on may involve moving in with my boyfriend, something I’ve never done before. He has been AMAZING through this last stretch. I will also be able to bump up my fitness activity again. I would really like to be super fit again, and I’ll be more free than ever to do so. Even when my mom was healthy I felt somewhat constrained due to the time we spent together. So I’m feeling a bit conflicted—at this time when I should be drowning in sadness, I’m feeling liberated. There’s a lot to think about in months to come.
I’ve missed you all in recent months. I hope you now have a better sense for why I’ve been gone. I look forward to reconnecting with you all as I begin this next phase of my life.